Nine Leadership Qualities in Nursing

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Nurse leaders meet around a conference table.Registered nurses (RNs) earn advanced degrees to improve their clinical skills, expand their scope of practice and learn more about the career they love. Earning a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree also broadens professional horizons, giving RNs an opportunity to climb the career ladder.

During a DNP program, nurses learn about becoming nurse leaders and effective nurse managers in charge of a team of RNs. Nurse leadership is something a growing number of medical facilities are interested in promoting to advance the future of healthcare. As new RNs enter the workforce, it’s important to have experienced leaders on-site to serve as role models and offer guidance. Experienced nurse leaders create effective RNs.

Now that healthcare is shifting toward value-based care (VBC), nursing leaders must help RNs transition to the new model of nursing to improve upon the patient outcomes typically associated with volume-based nursing. Acute care hospitals are now reimbursed by the quality — not the quantity — of the healthcare they provide. This means that financial incentives are now directly tied to positive patient outcomes. These value-based programs are clearly a step in the right direction, but it’s a step that requires guidance from nursing leadership.

Indeed, nurse leaders, particularly those who have earned DNP degrees, are essential to the continued forward movement of healthcare. Their leadership qualities in nursing set the tone for their hospital or healthcare facility, and help guide nurses of all experience levels in achieving optimal performance.

Becoming a Nurse Leader

The path to becoming a nurse leader isn’t universal for everyone, but there are common elements that RNs can develop. Of course, they need the right clinical skills and education, but nursing leaders also have a drive and selflessness that helps them inspire and lead others. They put their team and their patients above their own needs. They are more interested in achieving shared goals than personal ones.

Nursing leaders are dedicated professionals who are constantly pushing themselves and the healthcare professionals around them to improve. Emotional intelligence, integrity, and personal drive to deliver optimal patient care are just some of the most valued leadership qualities in nursing.

To become a nurse leader, RNs would do well to follow some steps and tips from professionals who are already successful in the healthcare industry.

1. Demonstrate Leadership

Excellent leadership skills include critical thinking, organization, the ability to function under stress, and the motivation to evolve professionally.

2. Practice Professionalism

Good leaders show respect for patients and coworkers, offer support and maintain a positive attitude especially during difficult times.

3. Maintain High Ethics

Good leaders practice good ethics, which should play a significant role in professional decision-making. High ethics should also be applied to personal activities, including posts on social media.

4. Volunteer for Leadership Positions

While volunteering may not come with a pay boost, it will pay long-term dividends in terms of cultivating personal connections, professional recognition, and experience. Volunteering for leadership positions also bolsters skills and boosts a resume.

5. Network

The best leaders are continually building their network of professional and personal associates to exchange ideas and find new approaches.

6. Learn About Yourself

One of the often-overlooked leadership qualities in nursing is the ability to self-reflect. Through introspection and emotional awareness, leaders can learn more about their strengths and weaknesses. Self-analysis allows nurses to determine how their emotions impact others, which makes for a more refined style of leadership.

One method of practicing self-awareness involves keeping a journal that details personal thoughts and feelings, especially if the day was stressful or emotionally taxing. Once those feelings are down on paper, a nurse leader can analyze the cause of their stressors. There may be a common thread that previously went unnoticed. This type of self-reflection helps nurses discover their own weaknesses so that they may self-improve and become better leaders.

7. Find a Mentor

Find nurse leaders who display exemplary leadership and observe their actions. Take note of how excellent leaders manage relationships, empower others and resolve conflicts. Talk to other leaders to learn how they handle stressful situations.

A mentor can convey real-world wisdom and constructive criticism that can’t be found in nursing textbooks. They can also help with handling the emotional side of nursing and how to maintain your own mental health.

8. Be Accountable

Accountability means taking ownership of personal decisions and actions and not blaming others for mistakes, which builds trust among healthcare professionals. The American Nurses Association’s Code of Ethics for Nurses states that nurses are both accountable and responsible for the quality of their practice. Nursing leaders must exercise personal and professional accountability to set a good example for other RNs.

9. Advance Educational Goals

Nurses who commit to an advanced education reap rewards that can lead to success. With each new degree or certification, new opportunities blossom. Those who pursue an MSN or DNP degree open up a world of opportunity to become a nurse practitioner or other type of nurse leader.

Earning a DNP Degree and Becoming a Nurse Leader

As the pinnacle of clinical education in nursing, a DNP degree provides nurses with the skills to become influential leaders in healthcare. Graduates are empowered to examine contemporary health issues and assess their impact on health policies. They are also able to analyze and evaluate program outcomes in healthcare settings. Finally, a DNP program can play a critical role in developing the leadership qualities in nursing that are so highly prized in the fast-paced and challenging healthcare industry.

At the same time, not all DNP degrees are created equal. The Duquesne University online DNP program allows RNs to choose between two unique DNP tracks: Clinical Leadership or Executive Nurse Leadership and Health Care Management. Graduates are prepared to impact the healthcare world on local, state, and national levels.

Develop the Skills for Nurse Leadership

Duquesne University’s online DNP program prepares RNs to use evidence-based practices to become leaders in advanced clinical care. Courses such as Healthcare Policy and Finance, Nursing Informatics and Data Management, and Evidence-Based Practice all play a critical role in developing the skills to become an effective member of nursing leadership.

Learn how Duquesne’s DNP program can put you on the career path to become a leader in nursing capable of inspiring others.

Recommended Readings

DNP vs. NP: Comparing Career Paths in Nursing

Nurse Practitioner vs. Physician: Examining the Key Differences

Nursing Career Paths and Advancement Guide


AAMC, “Hospitals innovate amid dire nursing shortages”

American Association of Colleges of Nursing, DNP Fact Sheet

American Nurses Association, Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements

Eisenhower Health, 5 Tips for Expanding Your Nursing Leadership Potential

Electronic Health Reporter, How To Become A Successful Nurse Leader?

My American Nurse, Promoting Professional Accountability and Ownership

Nurse Leader, Value-Based Care

Nursing Standard, Role of Emotional Intelligence in Effective Nurse Leadership

Relias, Nursing Leadership: What Is It and Why Is It Important?